Legal, Lawful, Awful: Using a Knife for Self-Defense

Knife for Self-Defense Cover

Hello Concealed Coalition! Austin Davis here, and thank you very much for sending in your questions. 

This week’s question is awesome. It’s “Hey Austin, can I use a knife for self-defense?”

Breaking Down the Question

That’s actually two questions. The first question is, “Is the knife you’re carrying legal?” 

What do I mean by that? Basically, is it legal in federal, state, local, and municipal laws? Make sure you have a legal tool on you at all times.

The next question is, “Can I use a knife for self-defense?”

Does this knife usage meet the standards of self-defense? I use a little mnemonic called IIRAP to determine this. IIRAP tells you the five things you need to make sure of in any defensive scenario to know that you are a good guy and defender.

Defining IIRAP When Using a Knife for Self-Defense


The first I in IIRAP is for innocence. You didn’t instigate the fight. This is one of the reasons why we stress de-escalation. Therefore you still have your status as an innocent victim intact.


Next is the examination of whether the threat is immediate. If it’s immediate, that means you weren’t hurt last week and you won’t be hurt next week, but rather that you’re at risk of being harmed right now.

Personally I like to use the immediacy argument when thinking about an instance like an active shooter in a house of worship. Let’s say someone comes in and starts shooting in your house of worship. You jump up clutching your gun, and when they see you they throw the gun down and throw their hands up. Now the threat is no longer immediate. You may want to shoot them, but you can’t because the threat isn’t immediate anymore.

Now, if they start going back to pick up the gun, the immediacy has opened back up. Think of immediacy sort of like a door that opens and closes in different parts of the scenario.

Home intruder entering property with hammer
When deciding whether to use a knife for self-defense, you must evaluate if the threat is immediate. For example, someone entering your house brandishing a weapon would probably constitute an immediate threat.


So are you innocent? Is it immediate? What is the R in IIRAP?

It is, “Is your response reasonable?” As good people and defenders, we don’t have to be perfect, but our response has to be reasonable. 

Who decides what’s reasonable? At the end of the day, it is district attorneys, judges, and juries.


Now for the A in IIRAP: Is it avoidable?

Yes, you may be in a stand your ground scenario. You may be in a counsel situation where you’re protected, but a lot of juries like it if you can just go in and close your door. Sometimes the best answer could be throwing two hands up and saying sorry, or just backing off and walking away.


The final factor of IIRAP is whether or not your response is proportional. Before you pull out a knife on someone who just slapped you or said some harmful or threatening words, remember that this may not be proportional to the threats involved.

So is it legal to use a knife for self-defense? If it’s 1) legal for you to carry it and 2) following all the elements of self-defense, it could be legal.

But keep in mind, the final judgment comes in when the judge, jury, and prosecution says you’re free to go. And don’t forget there are both criminal and civil matters. When it comes to self-defense, it may be legal. It may be lawful. But it might also be awful.

Man using a knife for self-defense
You will need to use your best judgment when it comes to deciding whether to use a knife for self-defense, but at the end of the day we win every fight we avoid, so consider de-escalation tactics as well.

So think about this: We win every fight we avoid. That’s why we want to focus on situational awareness and de-escalation.

In the meantime, keep those questions coming and remember to be a guardian always and a warrior when needed. 

Plus, for even more on self-protection, situational awareness, and the potential legal fight after the fight, check out Concealed Coalition University. By becoming a CCU member, you’ll gain access to our extensive training library that will help you become your own first responder in times of crisis.

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